Monday, July 28, 2008

The Day After...

As I sit here, ready to tell you all about my birthday dinner/feast, I have not decided which photo to post. The perfect one wasn't taken. I should have taken one of the moules or mussels before they were consumed and nothing remained except a few drops of juice and one or two little bits of onion. Taking pictures just was not on my mind at the time, I must confess. ( I have since added a photo I took at the market of mussels...)
The day started the way most of them do around here- breakfast on the table by 8:30 am, laundry to get off the line, fold and put away, more laundry to hang, breakfast dishes to do, kitchen to clean, two rooms to clean and prepare for the next guests, all of this accomplished by noon with the help of Dorette (she didn't realize she would have to wash dishes either, Martha and Monette- it's an evil trap we have here for people who stay on the family side of the house...). Chef Érick is really good at scrubbing showers. He did the green room while I did the yellow.
Lunch consisted of leftovers from the day before when we made lunch for two Japanese women who are visiting. On of them, Minae, was Madeleine Vedel's boss when she lived in Japan. We had a salad of yellow, green and red tomatoes, raw oysters, shrimp, couscous salad and risotto rice cooked in the shrimp broth, followed by several different local goat cheeses and chocolate from Joël Durand, chocolatier in St. Rémy. The wine was a Costière de Nîmes white wine made by Jean-Paul Cabanis. Seth and Craig at the Wine Authorities need to check him out!
After lunch, I took my shower and put on one of what I like to call my "dresses from Christian Lacroix's Saturday Market Line." Dorette had given me a really pretty scarf at breakfast that I wanted to wear. That was so tiring that I decided I needed a little siesta and took a quick nap, wrote a letter to my mom and sister and went back down to the kitchen in time to find Chef Érick chopping vegetables. I thought maybe he was going to prepare an aïoli. He wouldn't say. Then he chopped onions and tomatoes and put them on to cook. When he added a couple of bay leaves and some dry white wine, I became suspicious. Moules marinières provençales? I do love mussels from the Mediterranean Sea. Dorette and I opened a bottle of Jean-Paul's rosé and helped debeard the mussels. There seemed to be a huge quantity for only the three of us. I asked if perhaps we were feeding the Russian Army? I had no idea how that would translate for a Frenchman. My mom always used that line. He just smiled and continued stirring. He steamed the mussels and then we arranged them in the tian. I love arranging them and saving some of the shells to use as eating utensils! This is when I should've gotten the camera ready. However, the baked pastry for a millefeuille appeared and he set about making the pastry cream. Then the sound of the doorbell distracted me further. I went to answer and found Marie-Christine and her dog waiting. Not the Russian Army, needless to say, but a very chic French woman who runs Le Pot au Tabac in town. I ushered her into the kitchen and offered her a glass of rosé. She gave me a beautiful china dish with a hand-painted Arlesienne woman on it. When the doorbell rang again, I found Gilles, Didier and Monique waiting. A few minutes later Gilbert (aka GBear) also showed up. So, the party started! I am so glad that my 50th birthday gave us all a chance to get together again. And this time with Dorette added. Monique and Didier gave me an original drawing of an Arlesienne. Their hair ornaments and dresses give them away. The woman of Arles have been painted by Picasso and Van Gogh, just to name two famous painters.
We feasted on the mussels and couscous, with more rosé supplied by Gilles and Gilbert. The millefeuille was greatly appreciated, too. We didn't even bother to set the dining room table. We ate at the stainless steel work table that is in the kitchen. Have you ever noticed that the kitchen is the center of people's homes? No matter how nice your living room is or what the set up is in your house, when friends come over to eat, the kitchen becomes the favorite place to hang out. It is definitely the case here. The kitchen used to be a stable- the feeding place for lambs. That gives the room a very comforting aura.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that eating is all about who you are sharing the food with. After I left Arles last summer and returned home, I found that I really wasn't very hungry. Cooking for just myself was more of a chore than a pleasure. It's the act of cooking for someone and then sharing the meal that makes eating a pleasurable experience. It's an offering of sorts, a very personal one. In France, it is the social occasion, not just the prelude to going to the movies or a sporting event. Hours are spent talking, discussing the day's happenings, telling jokes (I still don't always get them and need them explained, as Dorette found out), as well as eating. A very nice way of life, n'est-ce pas?

Moules marinières provençales

For 4 persons as a main course; 6-8 as an appetizer

2 kg. (1 kg = 2.2 pounds) mussels (in Arles, we use the Bouzigues variety, from the Mediterranean Sea- these are saltier than mussels from the Atlantic or Pacific so we do not add any extra salt)
one cup water

For the sauce:
1 onion, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tomato, diced
1 cup dry white wine
4 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped

1. Debeard the mussels and set them to steam in a tall, covered pot with a cup of water. This will take 10-15 minutes. Once all the shells are open, remove from the flame and set aside. Do not throw away the mussel juice in the pot.
2. In a quart/liter size saucepan, pour the olive oil and add the minced onion. Simmer on a low flame until the onions have sweated and become simply translucent. Watch carefully and be sure that the onions do not brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir a moment, add the wine, the crushed garlic, the bay leaves and the mussel juice from the steaming pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer and reduce for 20-30 minutes.
3. To serve: Take a large rimmed platter and place the opened mussels in the half-shell in one layer throughout the platter. Extra mussels can be taken from their shells and added to the shells in the platter. Leave a few whole to be used as pinchers to eat the mussels. If you are making the mussels ahead of time, put them in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve, then take them out and gently reheat the serving dish, ladle the sauce over the mussels and serve. By ladling the piping hot sauce over the mussels, you reheat them without drying them out in the oven.

*Left over mussel juice is wonderful for a seafood risotto the next day, or as a base for a seafood chowder. Use it within a day or two at the most or freeze it for later use.

Bon appétit!

Friday, July 25, 2008

As I approach my BIG birthday...

It is relatively quiet this week around the B&B. The teens left, we cleaned their rooms and readied them for a group of five Canadian women who are here sketching, painting and visiting the sites Van Gogh and Cézanne painted. Gilbert is their official chauffeur for the week. They speak French very well and are off to Aix-en-Provence today.
Yesterday, Chef Érick and I headed to Marseille for the day. It is about 90 km from Arles. Filou, the family dog, accompanied us. If you've ever been to France, you know that there are about as many dogs as French people (60 million+) and they are welcome most anywhere-- the market, cafés, restaurants. As my close friends and family know, I am not much of a dog lover, but Filou is good company and I enjoy taking him for walks. He sits (sleeps) at my feet a lot and follows me up and down the stairs when I am cleaning rooms.
We drove all the way through Marseille on the corniche or road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea until we reached Callelongue. Here there are many calanques or stretches of barren, rocky coast. The rocks are gleaming white stones and the water is turquoise. It is incredibly beautiful. I continue to be amazed at how diverse the landscape is in the south of France. The water's edge was full of jellyfish. And a few fisherman and sunbathers on the rocks. From where I stood, looking out over the sea, I was facing Libya, in north Africa. No kidding.
We had lunch in a restaurant named Le Bar Restaurant de la Grotte. A grotte is a cave. I didn't see one, but about ten years ago one was found underwater near where we were. It is filled with prehistoric paintings. And this restaurant could never have passed as simply a bar. It was very elegant-- my chair was covered in red velvet, the table cloth and napkins were beige and there were touches of pink everywhere.
Anyway, back to lunch! I had a salad of poulpe or octopus- a first for me. I considered pasta, but decided to be daring. The chopped tentacles were chilled and served with greens, tomatoes and a small boiled, seasoned potato. Érick had roasted red and green peppers with an anchovy sauce and a dish with shrimp and citrus fruit- oranges and red grapefruit. We had a very nice bottle of local white wine.
Afterwards, we drove back into the city and down to the Vieux Port or Old Port. It was destroyed during WWII but has since been rebuilt. We took the Ferry Boat (honest to goodness, they use our words but give them a French pronunciation- it comes out like ferry bo-ought) across the port and then walked back to the car to come home. It was a very nice, relaxing day away from hanging out clothes to dry (the laundry is never ending and I fear that someday I will fall out of the second story window where we hang the laundry) and washing dishes.
Since we have no cooking classes going on at the moment, we eat very simply. A very simple, but delicious, favorite is the aïoli- a mayonnaise made with olive oil served with boiled vegetables and fish, if you wish. We had green beans, small new potatoes, turnips and carrots. We also had salted, boiled cod. Good bread and a chilled white or rosé wine and dinner is served. À table!

(this recipe was sufficient for three people)

1 egg yolk (fresh and preferably at room temperature)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 squirts of fresh lemon juice
pinch of sea salt
1 cup (approx) olive oil (fruity, not highly acidic is best)
puree of 2 large garlic cloves (grated on a fork with lemon juice from previous posting)

Puree garlic.
In bowl, start stirring with a fork or whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, salt and mustard. Pour in olive oil in a steady, thin stream, carefully whisking it into the egg yolk mixture. Stop when you reach a good and relatively solid texture (emulsion).
Pour in the pureed garlic and whip up stiff.
Arrange your vegetables on a platter.

Bon appétit!

Oh yeah-- I turn 50 on Sunday. I was born on a Sunday, so that seems very appropriate. It is my favorite day of the week. I have no idea what I will do to celebrate, but it will definitely include a walk along the Rhône River to where Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry Night Over The Rhône, my favorite painting (it now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris). Vincent shot himself on July 27, 1890, at the age of 37 and died two days later. Maybe if he hadn't left Arles...
God bless my mother. She was 17 when I was born and has always been my biggest fan and supporter. I wish she could be here with me in Arles on Sunday. She would love this place!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Teen Week!

It is a quiet, cloudy Sunday in Arles and I am grateful to have a few minutes for this new post. We have had eleven teens with us this past week, along with Dorette Snover (pictured above with me at a picnic at the home of organic wine maker Jean-Paul Cabanis) of C'est si bon! cooking school in Chapel Hill and her assistant par excellence, Emily Whipper. The group is off to Avignon this morning and I stayed back to work on reservations sent to the bed & breakfast via email.
It has been a busy week! We have cooked with the teens each night. One night, we made dough for pissaladière and pizza (all delicious!) and that was a huge success. I think they had all been without pizza for way too long. Last night, they divided into groups, with each group in charge of a part of our meal. The day before, each group met with Chefs Érick and Dorette and me, the translator, to discuss ideas for recipes. Érick had to bring them back to earth a bit by letting them know what is in season and available at the market at this time. One group really wanted to work with tuna, but the limit of locally fished tuna has already been met in southern France. Érick will not buy fish that is not caught locally by fishermen he knows and trusts. Saturday morning is Arles' big market day, so after breakfast we all headed to the market with our shopping lists in hand to buy ingredients for the meal. I accompanied the group in charge of the main dish as we looked for olives, sun-dried tomatoes and onions. The teens worked hard in the kitchen, beginning at 5:30 pm, aproned and ready to go. I asked that they stay focused, clean up after themselves and make it a goal to get dinner on the table by 8:30. They met all three of those goals and we had a feast! Seafood salad- shrimp, mussels, tellines and palourdes on a bed of lettuce with a lemon-mustard dressing, shrimp and leeks cooked with cumin, purée of caramelized zucchini and yellow squash, guinea hen stuffed with rice, black and green olives, and sun-dried tomatoes, roasted potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes with herbes de provence, haricots verts en persillade, and two beautiful millefeuilles garnished with fresh strawberries, black and red currants and raspberries. The stuffed guinea hens were a new recipe, created by the girls and we look forward to getting it down on paper and adding it to our repertoire!
We got up early one morning and headed out at 5:00 am to Maillane to visit the Fassy family-owned and run bakery. Once again, a true religious experience-- pain au chocolat right out of the oven. Each morning, the bakers make 300-400 baguettes, as well as croissants, fougasse (their specialty-- a savory pastry baked with olives), small pizzas, an almond pastry whose name I do not know but I see it in my dreams, brioche filled with cream and tiny chocolate chips, just to name a few.
Yesterday, we all went for a boat ride on the Rhône river for a couple of hours. Our host was Philippe, a local historian. We invited him to have dinner with us and he amazed me with his knowledge of French history. Did you know that monks were also soldiers back in the day? Well, I didn't. Philippe made it all very interesting. And it does somehow seem to come to life when you are right where it all happened.
We visited the Cabanis winery for an official tasting, to Claudine, the goat cheese maker for a picnic, to the Mas des Barres to taste olive oil and tonight we are heading through the Camargue to the beach for a cookout. NO horseback riding! We have already had our share of illness with the group-- a nasty spider bite on Natalie's toe, David got the hives twice, and Johnny had an upset stomach on the morning of our bakery trip. Not to mention Emily's barbed wire injury from the Loire Valley. Need some javel (bleach), Em?
I have enjoyed spending time with all of the teens and getting to know them. I will be sad to see them leave tomorrow morning. Dorette will be back in a few days to spend some time living here while working on her book. Emily will head back to Angers to her mom's family château. Her mom is Peg Ginoux, the artist responsible for the beautiful artwork in the Durham Academy middle school library dedicated to the Brumley family. Emily plans to spend a month walking part of the Chemin de Saint Jacques, the Compostelle pilgrimage route through western Europe. Hopefully, she will come back to Arles for a visit before going back to the States. I am lucky to have made such wonderful friends!

Pissaladière Recipe

Pizza dough- you can prepare it yourself or buy it at the grocery store
If you want to do it yourself--
one package of yeast, mixed in warm water
pinch of salt
little bit of sugar
enough flour to make a nice dough
allow it to rise in a warm place while you prepare the following--

3 onions, cut in thin rounds or slices
1-2 tomatoes, sliced thinly
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced (crush the clove with the skin on with the back of a knife- the skin will then remove easily and it is ready to be minced)
10 anchovies, in salt, rinsed and fileted
6 Tbsp olive oil
6-10 black Greek olives

Spread the dough onto a baking sheet or stone.
In 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, cook the onions until golden brown.
in 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, cook the anchovies, stirring until they melt and make a paste. Add half of the garlic and sizzle for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

Spread the anchovy paste on the dough. Sprinkle on the rest of the minced garlic. Add the onion. Arrange the tomato slices on top of the onions. Top with the olives.

Bake for about 15 minutes in a 375 oven or until crust is browned. Cut into slices and serve with a nice rosé. This makes a great appetizer or a light meal!

Bon appétit!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bastille Day

The past few days have been busy ones! Arles had been full of photographers in town for the Rencontres. The B&B has been booked with photographers from England, Italy, and Sweden, along with a family from South Africa. Lilly Whittier, pictured above making crêpes this morning for breakfast, and her mom, Coleman, have been here for the past two days. Coleman and Lilly are from Durham and Coleman will take over for me at Durham Academy next fall while I am still here in France. It has been a pleasure to spend time with them.
We went to the Christian Lacroix exhibit at the Musée Réattu yesterday afternoon. Lacroix is a famous fashion designer (I spotted him riding by in a car a few days ago and waved to him-- he did indeed wave back!) who was born and raised in Arles. The exhibit is one of the best I've ever seen. It combines paintings and sculptures from Roman times to present day, photography, and tapistries with dresses designed by Lacroix. We spent about two hours there and I plan to go back to see it again. A very nice surprise for Chef Érick happened after the exhibit opened in May. A client told him she very much enjoyed his two photos that are in the exhibit. He didn't know it but two photos he had sold to the museum in the '80's where chosen. They both depict laundry hanging out of windows here in Arles. One of the photos even gets a full page in the exhibition book! (
Lilly and Coleman took me to dinner last night at a provençal restaurant named Au Brin du Thym. Lilly loved eating the thyme that came with everything. She even had crème brûlée flavored with thyme. I had a salad with warm goat cheese on it. The goat cheese was on wheat bread toast drizzled with honey. For my main dish, I had rabbit seasoned with herbes de provence. It came with roasted potatoes and a baked eggplant. Incredible. Coleman chose a local red wine, Domaine des Côteaux des Travers Rasteau Reserve. A great choice.
After dinner, we walked through town, stopped in at the Hôtel d'Arleatan so that I could show them the beautiful outdoor courtyard there, walked by the arena and listened to a couple of songs being performed by the Trio Jourban in the Antique Theatre. A wonderful evening.
I made two new friends, Richard and Libby. They stayed here for the Rencontres. Richard is a photographer and Libby is a former ballerina living in Germany and teaching dance. We had a great visit to the Abbaye de Montmajour one afternoon. Van Gogh painted it and the surrounding hay fields and sunflowers. I hope to visit Libby in Brussels later this fall when she is there.
In just a few hours, twelve American teens, accompanied by Dorette Snover from C'est si bon! cooking school in Chapel Hill and her assistant, Emily, will arrive. We will prepare a welcome dinner for them tonight. Their week here will include cooking lessons every night, visits to an olive oil producer, a goat cheese maker, an organic vineyard and an early morning visit to a local baker. There are few things in life as good as a pain au chocolat right out of the oven at 6:00 am accompanied by hot chocolate made with Belgian chocolate and real milk by the baker himself. We will take them horseback riding in the Camargue one afternoon. I plan to stay as far away from the beasts as possible this time! After my fall in March, I have a healthy fear of the white Camargue horses. I will stick to taking photos of the pink flamingoes who live in the Camargue!
After eating the roasted eggplant last night, I decided to include Chef Érick's recipe for Eggplant Caviar on today's posting. It is a wonderful appetizer. There is never any left at the end of the meal.

Caviar d'Aubergine

For 7-10 persons as an appetizer dip for vegetables or toast

4 eggplants
4 garlic cloves
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 salted anchovy filets
2 Tbsp capers
additional olive oil to taste

Poke holes in the eggplant and bake for about an hour in a hot oven. Once cooked, transfer the pulp to a cutting board and slice and mince.
Puree the garlic, using the method described in the recipe for soupe au pistou.
Prepare the anchovy paste by pouring 2 Tbsp of the olive oil into a very small frying pan. Add the anchovy filet and stir with a fork, lightly mashing the filet to dissolve it into the oil. Let it bubble lightly a bit. Remove from the flame and add a 1/2 tsp of the pureed garlic. Return to the flame and stir while letting it heat for 30 seconds. Remove from the flame.
On a chopping board, mince the capers.
In a large bowl, mix together the eggplant, the anchovy paste, the capers and the pureed garlic, adding extra olive oil or lemon juice as desired.
Serve immediately at room temperature.
This dip is also a pleasant accompaniment to steak.

Bon appétit and Happy Bastille Day!

La Soupe au Pistou

Marie-Christine, one of Chef Érick's friends here in Arles, had been hinting for several days about how much she loves la soupe au pistou. She owns and runs a little café and tabac in the center of town and we stop there often for a coffee or something cold to drink. So, one morning last week, Érick and I made the rounds in town and invited Gilles, who owns a used book store, Monique and Didier, who run a little antique shop, and Marie-Christine to dinner. Gilles asked if it would be okay if he brought two friends who were visiting from Paris. Bien sûr!
I helped Érick cut up the vegetables for the soup and set the table. I am, after all, his assistante! The house that the family lives in has 4 levels, all accessed by a winding staircase. It is connected to the B&B by the kitchen we use for cooking lessons. The kitchen was a stable at one point in time. There are still rings in the wall where the animals were tied. That seems a very fitting history for where we work with clients. It is a very comforting place.
The soup was a great success. Marie-Christine prefers hers a bit chilled so Érick had put a bowl of soup for her in the refrigerator. She ate every bite of it, three bowls. And for days afterwards, talked about it. As she says, everyone has a different recipe for soupe au pistou, but Chef Érick's is just a cut above the others. It has a different je ne sais quoi. We brought out jars of tampenade and other spreads we buy every Saturday at the market, served them with toasted French bread as an appetizer. A nice local chilled white wine brought by Gilles was excellent. More bread was served with the soup. Dessert was in the form of leftover tartelettes made with a hazelnut crust and chocolate ganache filling. A nice organic red was served at that point. Monique wasn't feeling well and didn't make it to dinner, but I sent some dessert to her. I hoped that would make her feel better!
Enjoy the soup and visit Seth and Craig at Wine Authorities for the right wine. They have received 500 cases of French wine, just in time for today, Bastille Day. Vive la France!

La Soupe au Pistou- Vegetable Soup with Pesto

Serves 6

For the soup: (vegetables should be cut in a size that fits into a soup spoon)
200 grams (1 cup) fresh white beans or dried beans soaked in water overnight
150 grams (1 cup) green string beans cut in thirds
200 grams chopped carrots
250 grams (1 1/2 cups) chopped zucchini
250 grams chopped new red potatoes
One leek chopped coarsely
5 tomatoes, quartered
2 liters (2 generous quarts) water
salt to taste

For the pesto:
3 garlic cloves, pureed (this is best done on a plate with lemon juice- take the peeled clove and scrape it across the flattened prongs of a fork, producing a fine puree; the acidity of the lemon makes the garlic easily digestible)
1 bouquet of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup olive oil

Place all the vegetables, except the tomatoes, in a pot. Add the water. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes, adding the tomatoes during the last 20 minutes. If you add them at the beginning, they will interfere with the taste of the beans!
In a mortar and pestle, crush the chopped basil into the olive oil, add the pureed garlic and crush and pound until you have a paste (10-15 minutes). Put aside to serve at the table.
To serve: In wide, low soup bowls, ladle a portion of the soup and a tablespoon or two of pesto in the middle. You can also place a bowl of grated gruyère or emmental cheese on the table for people to serve themselves. Of course, the pesto is also really good on the French bread!

Hazelnut Sablée Crust and Chocolate Ganache Tarts

For the crust (makes enough for a dozen little tarts or a large single tart):

2 cups flour
1 cup toasted and ground nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
¼ lb plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon water (if necessary)

In a large mixing bowl, put in the flour and toasted, ground nuts, the sugar, the salt and the butter, cut in small pieces. Push up your sleeves, wash your hands, take off your rings, and with your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a sandy texture that, if you squeeze a handful will hold together. Into this mixture, break your whole egg and work in the egg with your hands lightly, then, as needed, add a tablespoon of water, work the dough quickly together and pat it into a ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to chill.
At a minimum 2 hours later, remove the dough from the fridge and put it onto a work surface. At this point, preheat your oven to 350F/160C. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and start to knead your dough. Press it down and fold it over, press it and fold it, for about 2-5 minutes. You want it to start to hold together and no longer crumble apart too easily. When making tartlets, take a small amount of dough, roll it out and place it in the greased tart pan and press into the pan. Do not make the dough too thick. It works better for small ones, rather than one large one, as it is not easy to cut once cooled after cooking.
To preheat the crust, poke the crust with a fork multiple times, place into your preheated oven and bake just until it begins to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Cool before filling.

For the chocolate ganache:

300 grams (12 oz) superior quality dark chocolate
225 grams (9 oz) heavy cream
90 grams (4 oz) butter, cut in small pieces

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Put into bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to boiling point. Remove from heat and pour slowly over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate melts, then add the bits of butter, one at a time, stirring gently and continually until the chocolate starts to thicken. Pour into the shells. Let cool before eating.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Here is a photo of the strawberries, les fraises du bois, that became jam or confiture. I did put two bowls of them on the breakfast table Sunday morning, as an extra treat for the guests. Not one single berry was left! These are the sweetest, most flavorful strawberries I've ever eaten. In order to turn them into jam, we capped them, put them in a big, heavy bottomed pot and covered them with sugar (1/3 lb.). We let them sit for about 12 hours and then cooked them. The sugar releases the juice from the berries. We put some on the table for breakfast Monday morning and put the rest in jars. I offered to trade a jar to Didier in exchange for a painting he has in his antique shop. He pretended not to understand my French at that point. So much for bargaining... Can't blame a girl for trying, n'est-ce pas?
Last night, Chef Érick and I returned to Snack Voltaire for dinner around 9:00 pm. I had taureau (one of the previously mentioned black bulls, although I don't know if was a Spanish one or a French one) and frites (French fries). It was my first steak since arriving in France. It was quite good. I had a glass of house red wine to go with it.
We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting nearby after the gentleman noticed the Durham Academy t-shirt Érick was wearing. My students gave it to him when we came to Arles in March. The man was British and curious about Durham. His wife is originally from California and they are in Arles for the Rencontres de Photos this week. He and Érick exchanged business cards and he told us that they hope to launch a website soon for travelers who want to do things off the beaten track in France. He was very interested in the cooking lessons Chef Érick offers. I was very impressed with his French. His wife was less proficient, but they live in a small village north of here and have learned French by talking to their neighbors. She said that when they are home, she goes out to the café each morning and forces herself to speak French. I think that if people get over being afraid to open their mouths and realize that it is okay to make mistakes, speaking French is so much more enjoyable. The French are very understanding and appreciate the effort you go to to speak to them in their own language.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Arles' Saturday Market

Before I begin today's post about the market and give a recipe, I need to add more information about yesterday's festivities. I just came in from having a nice glass of rosé and looking at today's newspaper, La Provence. Yesterday was the 77th Cocarde d'Or, a competition for the courses camarguaises, held in the Roman arena. These are bull races, with young men, called rasateurs, dressed in white, chasing after big black bulls in order to get a little pouch of money from between their horns. They wear a contraption on their hands that will remove the pouch if they can get close enough to the bull. It looks totally crazy to me, as the bulls are agile and can jump over the wall of the arena in order to try to impale the rasateur with its horns. There are rarely serious accidents, but I did see a photo of a young man with a horn stuck clear through his behind... ouch or aïe, aïe, aïe.
Arles has an outdoor market twice a week, a small one on Wednesdays and a large one on Saturdays. Just about anything you can think of is for sale at the market, from chickens to rabbits, to thongs to coffee makers. It is supposedly the largest outdoor market in France. It is where I am convinced I will run into Brad Pitt one of these days when he and Angelina and the kids are out shopping for their Saturday lunch. I'll keep you posted and promise photos! We have already had one client for a cooking course claiming to be Brad, but I didn't fall for it. I think he was from Illinois...
This past Saturday, we picked up oysters, tellines, little shells that you find buried in the sand that are delicious steamed so that they open, enough strawberries to make 7 large jars of preserves (I think it takes one kilo to make one jar), garlic, tomatoes, peaches, and zucchini. Chef Érick insists upon buying from local, organic producers who come to market to sell their own produce.
Growing up, my parents and grandparents always had a garden. Being sent out to hoe or weed the garden was never my idea of a good time, but it was well worth it when vegetables got ripe and showed up on the table. I even tried planting a garden of my own once when we lived on Lassiter Street in Durham. Mr. and Mrs. Davis, our neighbors and owners of Davis Baking Company (it doesn't exist anymore, unfortunately), offered me their little plot of land to try my hand at gardening. About the only thing I had any success with was zucchini. Zucchini bread became a staple at our house. I wish that I had had the recipe that follows!
After a trip to the farmer's market, enjoy the courgettes et tomates with a nice chilled white or rosé wine and fresh French bread. I am not sure you need anything else... well, maybe something sweet at the end!

Tian de Courgettes et Tomates
(a tian is a baking dish)

For 5 people

1 kilo (2.2 lbs) fresh zucchini
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) tomatoes, peeled and chopped coarsely
3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
3 bay leaves
2 tsp. sea salt
fresh water, as needed

Optional: grated cheese to top off the dish (gruyère, Swiss, emmental, parmesan)

First, start the tomatoes. In a large saucepan, pour in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the second sliced onion. Simmer until the onion is translucent (sweated), about 2-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook until they release their juice (5 minutes or so), and add a bit of water if necessary. Add the garlic, the bay leaves and let it simmer the length of time it takes for the zucchini to carmelize.

Slice the zucchini in rounds if it's small or quarter if it's large. Pour the olive oil into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, put in the onions and cook until they begin to brown lightly. Add the zucchini and do not cover, letting simmer and cook until the zucchini begin to brown as well. Stir occasionally but not too much so that the zucchini doesn't turn to mush. Depending upon how many you are cooking, you may have to do this in stages. You should have a single layer in your pan. Don't overcrowd the zucchini. After about 30 minutes of gentle cooking, the zucchini should be caramelized.

Take a large casserole dish and pour in the zucchini, pour over it the chunky tomato sauce and you can sprinkle cheese on top, if you like.

Serve hot today and cold tomorrow!

Bon appétit!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cowboys and bulls!

July has arrived and with it comes cowboys, bull races, Arles' ladies dressed in their finest, free flowing rosé, and a world reknowned photography festival officiated by Arles native and fashion designer Christian Lacroix. Today, Monday, July 7, is a day off from work in Arles to celebrate the Cocarde d'Or. As best I can tell, it has something to do with bulls in the arena. I need to ask more questions, obviously! We had lunch today in the Place Voltaire which was alive with the gentlemen above, a band playing bull fight music (it sounded a lot like our marching band kind of music, actually), ladies with their hair all done up and lots of tourists. I jumped right in there as one of them with my camera to get the above shot. They guys paid me no mind, as they were having quite a good time. Chef Erick did tell me that their scarves mark that they are sponsored by a company that makes pastis, a famous drink here in Provence. It is an anise flavored liqueur and one of the few drinks served cold-- well, colder than the usual room temperature. The French believe that cold drinks are bad for your digestion. And anything bad for your digestion is frowned upon. You do not want to mess with the French stomach, trust me. Richard, a friend, has had an ulcer and other digestive problems and is now without coffee, wine or his beloved île flottante (meringue served with custard) for over a month. He tells me he has lost 7 kilos (1 kilo = 2.2 pounds), but at what a sacrifice! Pauvre Richard.
Lunch today at Snack Voltaire was a wonderful paella. I had a langoustine for the first time. It looks kind of like a small lobster. There was also a shrimp, rabbit and chicken on top of yellow rice mixed with green beans and onions. It was so good. Served with a pitchet of rosé and fresh bread. Snack Voltaire is our favorite place to eat out. It is only a two minute walk from the house and the daily menu is always good. The salads are great, too. The owner is quite a fan of bull fights. There is a huge bull's head on the wall and lots of signed photos of famous bullfighters. I need to get a souvenir from the Durham Bulls for his collection.
Arles hosts bull fights twice a year, at Easter and in September for the Féria de Riz (Rice Harvest Festival). I have never been and think that I just may go see what it is all about in September.
Anyway, back to food. Yesterday's menu du jour at Voltaire was tortilla as the appetizer. I didn't have any idea what to expect. Chips and salsa in the south of France?? What I got was a slice of pie with chunks of potatoes in it, garnished with lettuce and vinaigrette. Senor Glass needs to give me a recipe for that! I am sure he has one. Then, for the main dish, it was salmon with tarragon and rice. Very tender, cooked just right and the sauce was a perfect compliment. More lettuce on the side. The daily menu also includes dessert, but I usually pass that up. Here at the house we have leftover tartelettes au chocolat, millefeuilles or tarte tatin in the refrigerator on any given day. Or there is chocolat noir aux violettes from Joël Durand, the handsome chocolate maker, in St. Rémy de Provence.
Not to worry, I haven't gained any weight. My daily work includes going up and down the winding staircases on both sides of the house more times than I care to count. My experience in cleaning toilets in French continues to grow. I'll close for now as there are a couple more rooms of guests to check in and more laundry to hang out the window of the second floor living room.
À demain, mes amis!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The lavender is in bloom!

Yes, the beautiful lavender is now in bloom in Provence. It will last until about mid-August. We went to the Abbaye de Sénanque this week where I took this photo. It inspired to me to post the following recipe for lavender ice cream. Just the smell of it is heavenly! Lavender is very useful-- the scent is relaxing and is used in soaps, shampoos, and lotions. Baked brie with lavender honey on top is so good. At Châteauneuf-du-Pape (see link above), Jean Baptiste, who did our wine tasting, shared a recipe for lamb-- prick the top of the lamb with a fork and brush it with lavender honey. Brown the lamb in olive oil, then bake in the oven. Ask at your favorite wine shop for a wine that goes well with lamb and you are set. If you are in Durham, North Carolina, visit Seth and Craig at the Wine Authorities on University Drive. They won't steer you wrong. Lavender oil can be used to relieve burns. I picked up a pan without the aid of a potholder one night and burned my hand. I put lavender oil on it and the pain was totally gone. Putting a few grains on the floor when you vacuum will make your whole house smell good.
Okay, recipe time! The recipes are courtesy of Érick Vedel, Cuisine et Tradition Provençale.

Lavender Ice Cream - Glaço à la lavando
(Serves 12)
1/2 liter or 1 pint milk
1/2 liter or 1 pint cream
12-15 grams or 1/2 ounce lavender grains
3 egg yolks
120 grams or 2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup lavender honey

Boil the milk and cream, add the lavender grains and let infuse for up to 12 hours. Strain the milk and warm it. Add the sugar and stir well. In a separate bowl, blend the egg yolks, then slowly add the warmed milk and sugar mixture to the egg yolks, whisking as you do so. Pour this mixture into a double-boiler and heat gently, stirring until thickened. Remove from heat, whisk in the lavender honey and chill for 5-6 hours (or overnight). Pour into an ice cream machine. Put in the freezer. Enjoy!

Green Beans in Parsley - Haricôts Verts au Persillade
1 kilo (2.2 pounds) fresh green beans
Coarse salt
Olive Oil
3 grated or minced garlic cloves
Juice of half a lemon
Bouquet of fresh parsley

Prepare the beans by snapping of the ends. Either steam or boil them until tender, about 6 minutes. Cool them down in cold water and put aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the persillade.
Chop the parsley finely.
Grate the garlic on the tips of a fork in lemon juice. Mix together with the parsely. Just before you are ready to serve, heat a large frying pan with a layer of olive oil, toss in a handful of beans. Toss until evenly heated, then add some of the garlic mixture. Toss and heat over the flame. Add a pinch of the salt, toss, and place in a serving dish. Repeat until all the beans are done. Serve immediately. (These are also really good served cold!)

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Déjeuner chez le Pape

Lunch at the Pope's summer home-- Déjeuner chez le Pape!
It has been a very busy week since my return to Arles. No computer time at all. I arrived back last Wednesday, June 25, by train from Paris. Just in time for a cooking stage for 6 American clients. I was a bit nervous, worried that perhaps I had forgotten all the kitchen vocabulary that I learned last summer. Believe me, I will never forgot the first time Érick asked me to bring him une louche. I had no idea what that could possibly be. I thought about faking it but quickly realized that I should just admit my ignorance. And, by the way, that is a ladle.
The evening passed very well and the clients left around 11 pm well-fed and knowledgeable about Provençal cooking. Tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, seafood, olive oil, eggplant-- just to name a few of our staples here in the summer.
The next night we were surprised by a knock on the door because we were expecting a quiet evening, maybe even a trip to the beach. Instead we found a couple and their daughter waiting for a cooking lesson! They were wonderful-- from California, spending time in Provence. We had somehow missed the reservation.
The next day, our Mini-Gourmand course began for ten guests. Five of them were Australian and five were American. We got them checked into their rooms and made a welcome dinner for them. They all got along so well and we spent the following five days taking them to the Arles market, to Châteauneuf-du-Pape (we had our picnic in the ruins of the Pope's summer home on top of a hill- he left his home for posterity and we made ourselves at home where we could see the whole valley below us and profit from his air-conditioning system-- no roof and windows placed so that the breeze came right through), lunch with Claudine, who makes amazing goat cheese, olive oil production at the Mas des Barres (with the owner picking fresh figs off his tree for us), a picnic overlooking the lavender fields at the Abbey of Sénanque and a quick trip to the Fontaine de Vaucluse. That was amazing! The pool is over 300 meters deep. Jacques Cousteau tried unsuccessfully to plumb its depths. We were content just to stick our feet in very quickly-- the water is very cold!
We ate very well with them-- sea bass wrapped in fig leaves, the Roman chef Apicius' recipe for chicken, mussels, fresh oysters, tomatoes with carmelized zucchini, millefeuille, tarte tatin (it was lovely, Martha, and I did indeed think of you with every bite-- I'd FedEx one if I could), chocolate tartes in hazelnut shells, just to name a few of the recipes. With good white and red wines, of course! We even had a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape-- unfortunately not exported to the US because they do not make enough of it. Sorry, folks.
They all checked out this morning, therefore I have a few minutes of computer time before getting ready for a cooking class for three guests tonight. It is hot in Arles- no rain since my arrival. The mistral has even been relatively quiet for the past few days. Good weather for drying sheets, towels and aprons on the clothes line outside the second story window...
Tomorrow I promise to post more photos and maybe even a recipe or two!
Au revoir!